Normally these four friends would be playing golf during their usual get togethers, but this weekend things are different. The most macho of them, Lewis (Burt Reynolds) wanted to ride the rapids of this river far from their Atlanta home, mainly because he wished to experience it before the valley was flooded for a new dam project and the landscape was lost forever beneath the water. But when they get there, Ed (Jon Voight) is having reservations at the distinct lack of a friendly welcome they get from what few locals they meet - he doesn't know the half of it...
Deliverance was one of those movies with such a shocking scene that it passed into legend, simultaneously making a joke of the idea of straying from the path in isolated areas and tapping into a very real fear that many had that should they take that camping trip in the middle of nowhere, civilisation would turn its back and allow all sorts of heinous crimes to be perpetrated. James Dickey was the man who thought this up, and if it shared a similar unease with simple country folk as Straw Dogs, this effort went deeper than the Sam Peckinpah movie to become part of modern parlance.
Basically this was either an act of defamation against the population of the North American wilderness, or a method of backing up every worry townies ever had about the place. Yet while the landscape is a major part of what made this environment so unfriendly, it was really the human aspect that proved the most troublesome, and that notion that the more lonely the situation, the less likely that the laws of the nation would apply. That shock sequence which brings it home is almost folklore itself, as if the film was based on a true incident - it wasn't - and what follows after keeps the tension at a maximum.
Seemingly the moment Drew (Ronny Cox) duels musically with the mountain boy who turns away from him after showing himself to be the superior banjo player, the four friends' fate is sealed, no matter how bluff Lewis (in the role that made Reynolds THE Hollywood star of the decade) is in the face of grumpy locals. Every one of those men have something to lose, and they do lose it over the course of the story, some kind of violation that either sees them the victim or forced into acts they would have thought unimaginable the day before. Once they hit the river in their twin canoes, all bets are off and anything can happen to them - as long as it's something harrowing.
Deliverance was well enough made to make it indelible in the fabric of cinema, after all there were a slew of horror movies that followed on that took their cue from it, from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre to Friday the 13th and beyond, yet it was not quite at the level of excellence that saw it eschew a pretentiousness which held it back. Indeed, you may wonder what Dickey and director John Boorman were trying to say other than a stick to the path Grimm's Fairy Tales moral, as when you looked into its themes they became murky and confused, as if holding back the visceral power of its finer scenes. Even the ending, where the amateur adventurers meet other mountain folk who could not be friendlier, suggests bad luck rather than a chasm of immorality in men's souls was to blame for the nightmare they have been through. The fact you cannot come up with a logical explanation for what happened is part of that power of course, the paranoia that it could happen to you, but the sense of a punch to the gut by someone who then intellectualises over it never leaves this.
British director whose work can be insufferably pretentious or completely inspired, sometimes in the space of a single film. He began his career with the BBC, before directing Dave Clark Five vehicle Catch Us If You Can. Hollywood beckoned and his Lee Marvin movies Point Blank and Hell in the Pacific won him admirers.